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When you plug in your headphones, they don’t always work. What gives?

If your headphone jack only works in certain positions, it is because the jack is not making a proper connection with the plug. The reason for this can be a mismatch between the plug and jack or the jack itself is broken or bent or jammed by dirt.

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What are Headphone Jacks and Headphone Plugs?

First, let’s go over what headphone plugs and jacks mean. The end of your headphones that you insert into various electronic devices is the plug. And the usually round hole on smartphones, laptops, or PlayStation where you put in the plug is the jack.

It is easy to get confused by the two and many will use these two terms interchangeably in everyday lingo. But when we say that the audio jack or headphone jack has an issue, we are not referring to the actual headphone. Your headset could be completely fine and yet you still cannot hear any sound.

Now, a headphone plug comes in different shapes and forms. Commonly, it will have a tip (left audio channel), a ring (right audio channel), and the sleeve (which forms the ground). Many headphones also feature more than one ring. And in each ring is separated by two black stripes, which are insulators. The tip, sleeve, and rings all act as conductors.

If you count each conductor as one pole, you get various types of audio plugs such as 3 poles, 4 poles, and even 5 poles. So, the 3 pole has a tip(T), sleeve(S), and only one ring(R) and this is called a TRS plug.

For the plug to fit perfectly into the jack, the number of poles on the plug has to match the number of tiny notches inside the jack.

Why Do Headphone Jacks Only Work When Half Plugged In?

Typically, when an audio jack fails to create a proper connection with the headphone’s plug, you get this sort of problem. Unless the circuit is complete, electricity and therefore, the audio signal cannot pass through the wires inside the headphone. This results in complete silence that makes you go buy a new pair.

But sometimes you do hear sound when the headphone is plugged halfway in. If you insert it completely it does not work. But the moment you start pulling it out you may hear some static noise. And then about halfway out, you may hear sound from one or perhaps both of the ears.

When it is working halfway in, it means that the wires inside the headset are still intact. The problem here is with the actual jack or the plug, as in the two parts that come together to form the circuit.

The reason for this could be a mismatch between the size of the plug and the size of the jack. So, when you plug in only half of it, the circuit is still complete and you get sound. But when you try to go all the way in, all the poles do not match up properly. And you end up with no sound.

Another common reason for this could be that dust or lint builds up inside the jack. This dust or lint can act as an insulator and prevent electricity from passing.

When the plug is in completely, the part that touches the ground conductor is blocked by the debris. But halfway in, the ground makes contact with a part that is not insulated. Only then the sound passes through.

Why Do My Headphone Jack Only Work in Certain Positions?

This is a common problem many headphones or earphones users face. When this happens, you have to hold the plug a certain way or put pressure on it at an angle for it to work.

A common reason for this is that the audio jack on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone has deteriorated. People who constantly use headsets will plug in and out numerous times a day. Over time this can cause the jack to deteriorate or become loose.

When this happens, all the conductors do not make proper contact with the wall of the jack. But when you put pressure on it, you temporarily force it to complete the circuit. The current can flow through and you are able to hear the sound as long as you keep pressure on the plug or the part that is right behind the plug.

Once again, this could also be because dust is clogging up the jack. This can also cause an incomplete circuit.

Using the wrong headphone size can also account for this. Let’s say you are using a headphone with a plug that is slightly smaller than the size of the audio jack on your laptop. So, the two cannot make contact seamlessly. Then when you bend the angle a little bit, the plug does touch the jack.

Bending the cord or the plug this way means you are bridging the circuit for a short time. When you release the pressure, the contact is lost along with the circuit.

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How Do I Fix My Headphone Jack When Only One Side Works?

This is another common issue that plagues many users. You hear audio from one side (left or right) perfectly fine. But the other side has little to no audio coming out of it.

Several different reasons can account for this problem. This could be due to broken or clogged-up audio jacks, preventing the plug from making proper contact. Or it could be because the wire on one side of the actual headphone is broken and so, that part is receiving no audio.

Since the source of the problem can vary but still show the same result, you need to go through some troubleshooting to get to the bottom of this. So, here are some steps you can take to resolve this issue:

Step 1

Make sure the headphone is firmly plugged into the device. If you are fortunate, this will get the job done and save you the trouble.

Step 2

Check the volume level on your device. Some headphones have separate audio control for each side. So, turn up the volume on both sides and see if this resolves the problem.

Step 3

Make sure that the audio jack is on the stereo and not mono. Also, ensure that the audio setting on your device is stereo as well.

Mono setting or jack will play sound on one channel only. So, you hear from just one end of the headphone.

Step 4

If you are using an extension cable to plug in your headphones, disconnect them and plug the headphones directly into the device. If this solves the problem, then the issue was with the extension cable.

Step 5

Test your headphones on another piece of device. If you still cannot hear any sound, the headphone is the source of the issue. It could have a broken wire or a faulty conductor. Replacing it would be the best solution.

Step 6

Attach a different set of functioning headphones to the device. If all of the audio settings are correct and you still cannot hear any sound, then the device has some internal problems.

Step 7

The audio jack, especially those on smartphones, can accumulate dust and other obstructions. This could cause an audio problem even if there is no sound issue.

Use the pointed end of a brush toothpick to loosen up the filth. Then use the brush side to scoop up all of the dust.

Step 8

If cleaning the jack did not help, the problem could be software-related. Make sure your audio drivers are updated.

If the problem still persists, it is best to take the device for repair.


Headphones are an integral part of the modern-day lives of so many. And knowing what sort of problems they could have and how to fix them will save you a lot of headaches.